Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Trends in Writing and Publishing: What to Look for in 2016

It’s that time of year when we feel compelled to look forward and back. Individually, we assess the progress we made last year toward the goals we’d hoped to achieve—you know, the ones in your business plan (writers, you do have a business plan, yes?) as we draft new plans for the fresh new year ahead.

It only makes sense that we accomplish all of that with a nod toward the context in which we work—the greater world of crafting and publishing books. Of course, there is always this caveat—none of us has a crystal ball. Still, there are trends to be watched for.

In looking ahead, I draw on what I’ve learned from nearly 20 years in this industry, working with six different publishers and three literary agents on 16 books. I’ve also benefited from my position as a staff writer with The Independent, a publishing trade magazine, though the views expressed here are entirely my own.

Here, in no particular order, are trends worth watching in 2016:

·         Balance: Digital sales leveled off in 2015, and print sales were bolstered by, of all things, the adult coloring book phenomenon. In 2016, we should see balance that restores, at least in part, a sense of normalcy to writing and publishing. Expect a lot less hand-wringing and wrangling over who’s going to come out on top. As many observers have been quietly pointing out for years, there’s room at the expanded publishing table for lots of diverse participants.

·         Settling: As some of the frenzy diminishes, we can enjoy a more expansive sense of purpose. 2016 may indeed be the year when authors and publishers and everyone else in the industry draw the biggest collective breath they’ve taken in a good long while, followed by a sigh of relief. At last, we can point ourselves back toward our root. We can quit worrying ourselves to pieces over fluctuations in the marketplace and focus again on our first love—creating great books.

·         Fewer Players: No matter how you publish, chances are you’ve experienced diminishing returns in the past few years—lower advances, fewer sales, smaller checks. The bright-eyed optimism with which many ventured into publishing during the last several years has been tempered by the hard truth that our world is populated with many more books than will ever find readers in numbers significant enough to sustain their creators. Authors will continue to drop out of the business, and on their heels will be many in the burgeoning author services industry.

·         More Personal: No doubt about it—the Amazon behemoth is here to stay. But part of Amazon’s success is how they manage to be big and small all at once by catering to a customer’s individual tastes and desires. Authors and publishers may not be able to beat Amazon at its game, but they’re learning that they can best Amazon at its own game, interacting in more significant and creative ways with their readers.

·         The Unexpected: In the Information Age, the same dichotomies that governed 2015 will prevail through the next year and beyond. Hyped trends (Star Wars, Go Set a Watchman) are to the publishing landscape what corn is to an Iowa interstate—an ubiquitous blur that threaten to make us forget why we came.Thankfully, there’s always the potential for a surprise. For that reason if nothing else, long live the coloring book!

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Her next book, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold, comes out in April, 2016. She is also a staff writer for the IBPA Independent.